'War Hero' Savchenko Accused Of Terror Plot, Levels Own Accusations In Ukraine

KYIV -- Lawmaker and former Russian captive Nadia Savchenko has traded incendiary accusations with senior Ukrainian authorities and faces possible arrest over what Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko alleged was a detailed plan for a devastating "terrorist" attack on parliament.

Savchenko, a former military aviator who spent 22 months in Russian prisons after being detained by separatists in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, claimed on March 15 that lawmaker Serhiy Pashinskyy played a prominent role in a deadly crackdown on pro-European demonstrators during antigovernment Maidan protests that toppled Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

Speaking to journalists in front of the Security Service (SBU) headquarters in Kyiv, before she was questioned as a witness in a case against a man arrested last week on suspicion of plotting to kill President Petro Poroshenko and other officials in a series of armed attacks, Savchenko also asserted that Lutsenko covered up what she alleged was current parliament speaker Andriy Parubiy's involvement in sniper shootings that authorities say killed dozens of people during the crackdown on the Maidan protests.

However, Savchenko said later that she meant to accuse not Parubiy but Pashinskyy, and publicly apologized to the parliament speaker for "a slip of the tongue."

Lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada swiftly responded by kicking Savchenko out of the single-chamber parliament's national security and defense committee. Lutsenko, meanwhile, told parliament that Savchenko had planned an attack using grenades, mortars and automatic weapons.

Investigators have "irrefutable proof that Nadia Savchenko...personally planned, personally recruited, and personally gave instructions about how to commit a terrorist act here, in this chamber," Lutsenko said. He asked the Rada to strip her of her parliamentary immunity so that she could be arrested.

Lutsenko claimed that Savchenko's plan included destroying the Rada's roof cupola and killing surviving lawmakers with assault-rifle fire.

Savchenko became a national hero and was greeted with fanfare when she returned to Ukraine in a prisoner swap with Russia in May 2016, but has faced mounting criticism since then. She has drawn fire for holding talks with the Russia-backed separatists without the government's consent.

In January 2017, lawmakers called for an investigation into what they said were anti-Ukrainian actions after Savchenko suggested that Kyiv would have to relax its claim on Crimea, which Russia seized after Yanukovych's ouster in 2014, in order to regain control of the territory held by the separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

More than 100 protesters were killed in the 2013-14 demonstrations, centered on Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnost (Independence Square) that preceded Yanukovych's flight to Russia. Forty-eight of them were allegedly gunned down in February 2014 by snipers who Ukrainian authorities claim received direct orders from the Moscow-friendly Yanukovych.

In her remarks on March 15, Savchenko said that she saw Parubiy, who was on the antigovernment side at the time, "leading snipers into the Hotel Ukraine," which looms over the Maidan. "I saw a blue minibus and armed people coming out of it, I have said earlier [to investigators] who those people were. Those people are now lawmakers."

She said the deaths on the Maidan will never be thoroughly investigated, asserting that the government that came to power after Yanukovych's downfall does not want it to happen.

Savchenko also accused the government of "giving up Crimea" and said it bore responsibility for the deaths of Ukrainian soldiers in the ongoing conflict in the east, where more than 10,300 combatants and civilians have been killed in the war between Kyiv's forces and the separatists since April 2014.

Lutsenko's accusation came after Savchenko reported to SBU headquarters for questioning as a witness in the case against Volodymyr Ruban, who has been a key negotiator in prisoner exchanges with the Russia-backed separatists.

Ruban was arrested last week and charged with plotting to kill Poroshenko and other top officials, after he was detained while crossing into government-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine -- allegedly with large amounts of weapons and ammunition hidden in a shipment of furniture.

Investigators claim Ruban planned to use mortars, grenade launchers, guns, and explosives to carry out armed attacks on the residences of statesmen and political leaders" including Poroshenko, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and National Security and Defense Council chief Oleksandr Turchynov with the intention of killing them.

Ruban, whose Center for the Release of POWs has been involved in prisoner exchanges between Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists since 2014, maintains his innocence and says he was framed.

In the past, Ruban was involved in the activities of Ukrainian Choice, an organization that many in Ukraine consider to be pro-Kremlin. The group is headed by Viktor Medvedchuk, who has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has played a major behind-the-scenes role in exchanges of captives.

Savchenko has been involved in prisoner exchanges in the past.

With reporting by Reuters